The Foreign Service Journal, May 2024

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MAY 2024 31 board’s authority, AFSA and others continued to press for legislation, which finally passed in 1975, establishing the Foreign Service Grievance Board. AFSA’s transformation to activism was completed in 1973 when Foreign Service members voted for the association to become a union. Formally certified as the exclusive representative of Foreign Service members at State, the U.S. Information Agency, and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), AFSA gained authority to negotiate with foreign affairs agencies for the interests of its members. AFSA’s senior officers became federal union officials with freedom to lobby Congress and speak to the media without obtaining executive branch approval, although it was not until 1982 that the Department of State funded a position for AFSA’s elected president, allowing the incumbent, then Dennis Hays, to work at AFSA full-time. Later, the same arrangement came to apply to AFSA vice presidents representing State, USAID, the Foreign Commercial Service, and the Foreign Agricultural Service. Voice of the Foreign Service As both the professional association and union for the Foreign Service, AFSA began to refer to itself as the “voice of the Foreign Service.” That characterization first appeared in The Foreign Service Journal in a 1974 column by AFSA President Tom Boyatt. By 1980, it was a recurring tagline cited in the Journal and AFSA statements. Over the past half century, AFSA has worked to influence legislation affecting the U.S. Foreign Service as an institution and career. It had significant input into the drafting of the Foreign Service Act of 1980, which maintained the Foreign Service as separate from the Civil Service, modernized the Foreign Service retirement system, and improved allowances, benefits, and pay. AFSA has been the leading proponent, or played a key advocacy role, in numerous other legislative changes that improved the Foreign Service as a place to work and raise a family. They include establishing Overseas Comparability Pay; establishing Virtual Locality Pay to calculate the pensions of members serving overseas based on the Washington, D.C., locality pay rate; exempting members from capital gains taxation upon the sale of their primary residence after extended overseas service; obtaining Law Enforcement Availability Pay for Diplomatic Security special agents; and gaining parity for the Foreign Service with the military on a range of benefits, including in-state college tuition rates for family members. In negotiations with agency management, AFSA focuses on the long-term institutional well-being of the career Foreign Service. Over the years, AFSA has stopped or ameliorated numerous department-proposed personnel changes that would have addressed short-term personnel problems at the expense of long-term negative effects on the Foreign Service career. Examples include the department’s proposed directed assignments to war zone Iraq in 2007 and plans to stop all Foreign Service hiring early in the administration of President Donald Trump. Despite its activism, AFSA has not always led the charge on needed reforms. AFSA did not support the 1976 class action lawsuit against the State Department citing discrimination against women in hiring, promotions, and assignments. AFSA did not support a similar lawsuit filed in 1986 by Black officers. AFSA deferred to the Association of American Foreign Service Women (today named the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide) to insert provisions in the Foreign Service Act of 1980 to protect the retirement benefits of ex-spouses. AFSA took until 2000 to throw its support behind efforts by the employee group Gays and Lesbians in Foreign Affairs Agencies (now known simply as glifaa) to secure benefits for domestic partners. As AFSA enters its second century, it continues to advocate for the long-term well-being of the Foreign Service as an institution and career. The future is unknown, but coming challenges could include a reopening of the Foreign Service Act of 1980 for fundamental revision, as well as presidential or congressional moves to replace large numbers of career government employees with political appointees. With more than 80 percent of the active-duty Foreign Service belonging to AFSA and with “rainy day” reserve funds exceeding $4.5 million, AFSA is well placed to continue to defend and advance the interests of the U.S. Foreign Service. n AFSA’s transformation to activism was completed in 1973 when Foreign Service members voted for the association to become a union.